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The ICANN Ninja

Was excited to see this article on the BBC: “The Next US leader? Ask a Ninja” over my morning coffee and it’s not just because I think ninjas are the coolest.

There are a number of groups around the world who are experimenting with the impact of the Internet on how people make decisions. The environment ministry in the UK recently put together a wiki on how do address climate change. Conversely, the Blair government just got smacked by a huge online petition against a proposed road-pricing system.

It is an exciting time to be involved in policy making, especially where it crosses over with the Internet. That’s one of the main reasons I became interested in ICANN. It really is at the forefront of much of these efforts and I think has a lot of lessons that it can share with the world about what works and what doesn’t in this field.

However, despite an intricate and evolving policy structure one of our key challenges is explaining what we do and how we do it. Just this week I was on a conference call with some IISD interns [iisd.org] trying to explain what ICANN was. They were completely bewildered by our website.

Happy talking talking

ICANN has a passionate dialogue going on right now where we want to encourage as much participation as we can without appearing to over step our mandate. We have these arguments internally where some people say “hey that’s not accurate, you’re not precisely outlining what we do” and others say, “if we say what we do like that no one is ever going to understand what we do.” And you get people like me who say, man, maybe ICANN just needs a ninja!

It sounds a bit irreverent to say ICANN needs a ninja, which is why it’s nice to know the Director of Comparative Media Studies at MIT is in my court. The ninja issue raises a very serious point.

ICANN has been discussing how to approach the communications and participation issue for so long its structures are in real danger of being eclipsed by new technology and modes of interaction.

We’re also in danger of forgetting that there are a lot of issues that compete for people’s attention. As the transaction cost for getting an issue into the public space declines the competition for people’s spare time has gone up. We can no longer just assume people will be interested in ICANN issues.

Most of ICANN’s website is rather web 1.0. We, and the people who participate in ICANN, do very little of the type of outreach a ninja might do. We certainly haven’t got 500,000 views on YouTube, let alone posted anything on YouTube at all.

Old-fashioned email

Our interactions are mostly via mailing lists (aside from this flashy new blog!), but email use is declining amongst people below 25 as they move to IM and myspace based interaction.

That being said, a critical reason our website looks pretty boring is that we have a global audience, and it’s important to recall most Internet users, including my mom, are still on dial-up.

So we’ve got two challenges.

First: In a space where competition for people’s time is becoming almost perfect, how can we best reach out to people? What lessons can we learn from communities like the environmental community and what lessons can we teach?

Second: How do we keep up with and inspire the people on broadband who are going video and web 2.0 while reaching out to people all over the world who are just discovering the Internet and are mostly on dial up?

They are questions that would challenge even a Ninja, but we and those with an interest in ICANN and our policy making model, need to think about how best to answer them soon.

Comments

    Domain Name System
    Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as""icann.org"" is not an IDN."